Rock­fish sea­son is com­ing up soon

Maryland Independent - - Sports B -

The spring sea­son for the state fish of Mary­land, the rock­fish, opens April 16 in the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay. That’s just two weeks and a hand­ful of days to get your boat and tackle ready. This fish­ing sea­son sig­nals the of­fi­cial be­gin­ning of spring for many of Mary­land’s an­glers.

Rock­fish, also known as striped bass or lo­cally as stripers, are a pop­u­lar game­fish along the At­lantic coast. This month-long spring sea­son is a good op­por­tu­nity for spend­ing time on the wa­ter with fam­ily and friends and shar­ing the ex­cite­ment of fish­ing for tro­phy-size stripers.

The spring tro­phy sea­son runs April 16 to May 15. An­glers are al­lowed to keep one striped bass per day that is 35 inches or longer. Size is mea­sured from the tip of the snout to the tip of the tail. A res­i­dent Ch­e­sa­peake Bay and Coastal Sport Fish­ing Li­cense ($15) can be pur­chased in­di­vid­u­ally or a boat li­cense ($50) will cover all pas­sen­gers on­board.

From 1985 to 1990, Mary­land is­sued a mora­to­rium on striped bass fish­ing be­cause of de­clin­ing num­bers due to over­fish­ing and pol­lu­tion such as acid rain. I re­mem­ber those times clearly even though I was only 10 or 11 years old be­cause my dad fol­lowed the striped bass restora­tion ef­forts closely.

I got to tag along a few times when he vis­ited Mary­land Depart­ment of Nat­u­ral Re­sources’ Cedarville Fish Hatch­ery in Brandy­wine. We toured the fa­cil­ity, wit­nessed the ar­ti­fi­cial spawn­ing process and saw the fry be­ing raised there first­hand. In 1988, hatch­ery fish com­prised 50 per­cent of the ju­ve­nile striped bass pop­u­la­tion in the Patux­ent River. Due to the restora­tion ef­forts, by 1995 the striped bass pop­u­la­tion had made a come­back and com­mer­cial and re­cre­ational fish­ing re­sumed.

The striped bass pop­u­la­tion is care­fully mon­i­tored. Al­though the At­lantic States Fish­eries Com­mis­sion re­ported that stripers are not over­fished or ex­pe­ri­enc­ing over­fish­ing cur­rently, there’s a wor­ri­some trend in the spawn­ing stock biomass of fe­male rock­fish, which has been de­creas­ing since 2006.

Most, if not all, rock­fish that grow to 40 inches or big­ger are fe­males. The eggs that en­sure fu­ture rock­fish in the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay and its trib­u­taries come from these fe­males. Science has shown that the big­ger, older fe­male rock­fish typ­i­cally lay more ro­bust eggs in much larger quan­ti­ties than the younger fe­males. These ma­ture fe­males are de­signed by na­ture to be the for­bears of lar­vae that are more re­silient and bet­ter able to with­stand en­vi­ron­men­tal stres­sors, just the kind of hardy ju­ve­niles needed to pro­duce a qual­ity striped bass stock over the long term.

Stripers For­ever is an or­ga­ni­za­tion that ad­vo­cates for game-fish sta­tus for striped bass and for end­ing the com­mer­cial fish­ery with a stamp buy­out. Since 2003, Stripers For­ever has con­ducted sur­veys that ask for in­put from an­glers all along the striper’s mi­gra­tory range. In 2015, 657 re­spon­dents weighed in with their ob­ser­va­tions.

Over­all, a ma­jor­ity of an­glers felt that they were catch­ing fewer and smaller fish. When asked about the 2011 year class, 84 per­cent felt the fish were ap­pear­ing at lev­els far be­low ex­pec­ta­tions for such a huge year class. The mem­bers of Stripers For­ever be­lieve large breed­ing stripers should not be har­vested and want to set aside a high per­cent­age of the cur­rent com­mer­cial catch for con­ser­va­tion — and not har­vest it them­selves — to en­sure the fu­ture of the wild rock­fish stock along the At­lantic coast.

Keep in mind that the larger, tro­phy-sized fish tar­geted dur­ing this sea­son are more than likely to be fe­male. And, most peo­ple agree, the big­ger fish don’t taste as good and have had more years in the wa­ter to col­lect con­tam­i­nants such as PCBs that hu­mans shouldn’t con­sume.

So con­sider mak­ing tro­phy rock­fish sea­son catch-and-re­lease and give those larger fe­males an­other chance to spawn. You can al­ways catch your next rock­fish meal later this year, and it’s a great ex­cuse to get out on your boat and do more fish­ing.

jamiedrake­out­doors@outlook.com

STAFF PHOTO BY AJ MA­SON

West­lake se­nior Jalen El­liott, the 55-me­ter hur­dles in­door state cham­pion, looks to win his first-ever in­di­vid­ual state gold this spring in the out­door sea­son in the 110-me­ter hur­dles.

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